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The Coventry Cross (Reproduction)

Not far from the Lady Godiva statue in Broadgate was the original site of the City's Market Cross, known as the Coventry Cross. The original Medieval cross stood at the south end of Cross Cheaping (meaning market) where it joined up with Broadgate (see the illustration below):

Coventry Cross historic images

The Coventry Cross was an important landmark in this Cathedral city. Early records show that the cross was here in the 1300's. It was probably a simple cross carved out of the local red sandstone. In 1423 the court-leet records show that there was a order for a new cross which lasted for a hundred years. Unfortunately part of the upper section had to be taken down for safety reasons. In 1441 work started on building a new cross from money left by Sir William Hollies in his will. Sir William had been born in the Stoke area of Coventry; he made his money in London and had been Mayor of London.

Coventry Cross historic image

Here are two different illustrations of the Coventry Cross. Interestingly in the image above the people are slightly smaller, perhaps to make the cross look larger. The caption reads:

"Sir Willm. Hollies Kt. sometime Lord Mayor of London. In respect to this City & his Native Country (being son of Tho. Hollies of Stoke near Coventry) by his Will Gave two hundred Pounds for Building this Cross, (after it form of one at Abington) it was begun An. 1541.35 H.S. & finished An. 1544. This Gothic Pile is six square each side sit 7 at ye Base.finely Diminishing in 3 stories Pyramidically 57 feet high wth. 18 Niches whose Canopy are Curiously Embellished & Furnished wth. Statues some of them brought from ye white.Fryers, the Pillars Pinnacles & Arches Enrich'd wth. Statuary Carving, the Arms of England Founder...... And so on"

Hollies Road off Humber Road is named after William Hollies.

Coventry Cross

The new cross was brightly painted, and picked out with gilding. It stood for two hundred years but by 1771 it was taken down after part had been removed to avoid its collapse. Parts of the cross were saved and one sculpture of King Henry VI was put by the stairs to St. Mary's Hall and is now on display in the Herbert Museum. There are said to be pieces of the original cross in a garden on Tamworth Road, Keresley. 

King Henry VI statue - St. Mary's Hall

The modern replica of the Coventry Cross was funded by 'The Coventry Boy Foundation'. The idea of a replica had been suggested many years ago in the 1930's, but it was not until 1971 that discussions and plans were shown to the Coventry Civic Amenities Society (now the Coventry Society) and the Church authorities. It now stands next to Holy Trinity Church, 100 metres way from the original site of the old cross. The completed replica was unveiled in 1976. Sculpted by George Wagstaffe this modern version is different to the original by being mainly made from cast ferro-concrete, with only some of the statues being carved out of stone.

At 17.4 metres (57ft) high the new Coventry Cross has 20 niches with many figures. The first row is of Kings - Henry VI, John, Edward I, Henry II, Richard I and Henry IV. On the second row St. George, Edward III, St. John, St. Michael, Christ and Henry III, with boys holding pennons. On the second, saints and monks - St. Peter, St. James the Less, 3 monks (a Benedictine, a Whitefriar and a Greyfriar) also there is a lion, bull, greyhound and dragon with pennons. The final lantern included 6 angels.

George Wagstaff,the artist, has done many works of public art in and around Coventry. 'Phoenix' was first displayed in the precinct near Woolworths but is now located in the south end of Hertford Street, 'Naiad' a life size adolescent girl, sitting on a rock with feet in a pool of water in Palace Yard, off Earl Street, which is now in storage. There is also a statue St. Mary Magdalena in the church of the same name in Chaplefields.

In 2007 it was suggested that replica cross should be moved to Cross Cheaping. But because of popular demand this was not implemented. But now after its been on this same site for 40 years it has again been suggested that it be moved. This has come about because of the plans to do up Pepper Lane and the Hill Top Conservation Area.

An alternative might be to leave the cross where it is but to improve it with colour and gold leaf as it was originally. The proposed relocation site is not its original location, although it is nearer. Why not commission a new work of public art for the site in Cross Cheaping?

What do you think?

Coventry Cross today

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